Sticks & Stones
The tournament of Hearts is on this week. For those unfamiliar with the sport of curling – this is the nationals for the women’s teams.
For those who have never curled, try not to judge the players too hard before you have spent two hours delivering and sweeping rocks yourself. It may look easy on TV but I can assure you – from experience – it is not. I am not referring to strength; anyone can through a rock the length of the ice. And many people can sort of sweep the rocks. However, it is difficult to through it exactly where you are supposed to and even more difficult to know how to call the ice and sweeping for the rock. Even sweeping is not as easy as it looks – you have to combine the right amount of pressure and friction along with a good sense of how fast that rock is travelling and where it will stop. Three years into the sport and I still struggle to make any of my shots.
However, even more interesting than playing the sport or watching the game on TV is learning about some of curling’s rich history. Recently, I was fortunate to talk with an older gentleman who remembers a time when teams played 14 ends (not the 8-10 ends common now) and other mostly forgotten trivia.
Curling was developed in Scotland, the home of golf. Like golf, curling started with 18 ends. Imagine going back and forth across the ice sheet 18 times. Currently teams will play 10 ends in just under 3 hours. Granted the style of game has changed some in that time. There are now rules about guards – mostly the first four guards cannot be removed. This has shifted the strategy of the game and the type of shotes. Previously most shots were take-outs, not draws, meaning the game moved that much faster.
The size and weight of the stones has also changed since its inception. At one time, stones ranged from 40 – 60 lbs – there was no set size. Now, of course they are uniform in size, weight and shape. Only a small running surface on the bottom of the rock is actually in contact with the ice. Further, and most interesting to me, the act of putting a spin on the rock was against the rules. Apparently, skips were expected to guess which way a rock would start curling (spinning and arching across the ice) by reading the ice and the rocks. To add a spin was thought to be cheating as you were directing the rock. Weird.
As the sport evolved, Canada developed its own style and Europe a slightly different variation. One of the big differences being the spin on the rocks. Now the rules are consistant – at least to my understanding.
Evolving along with the rules of the sport are the rules of the social aspect – which many consider just as important. Parts of the country, my club included, follow the social norm where the winning team is responsible for buying the first round of drinks after the game. It is expected that both teams sit together for some time after they play. Perhaps it is this attitude that makes curling so welcoming to beginners at all ages. I have met some players that started after they retired from work, while others have been curlings since they were children. It is impressive that the oldest curler at our club is 96 years young!
It is a great sport and still one of my favourites to watch. Go Ontario Go!